“The Church Campout From Hell” – Delinquents and Me

“Personal History Saturday”

I got married on a beautiful Southern California day in January 1976.  My wife and I soon moved into a poor inner-city ward in Long Beach. 

After a few weeks, I was called as the Explorer Scout Leader, and Priest Advisor.

The upcoming Friday was a 3-day holiday and the Explorers had sheduled winter campout at Mount Pinos, in the Los Padres National Forest, near the Tejon Pass on the I-5.

I assumed the boys had been properly trained and were fully prepared.  Boy, was I wrong!

Winter Campout Disaster

Late Friday afternoon, as we gathered in the church parking, the other adult leader (the Young Men’s President) cancelled. This was a bad omen.

However, he told me to go ahead and take the 6 boys in his 9-seat station wagon. Since my “boss” asked me to go, and since I didn’t want to disappoint the boys on my first activity, we piled in the station wagon and headed off.

One-on-One vs. Child Protection

As an aside, in 1976, the BSA and the LDS Church promoted one-on-one time between leaders and boys.  These were choice opportunities to change lives for the better.

Because of abuses, years later, one-on-one time was an absolute “no-no.”  The BSA and LDS Church had adopted child protection programs.  At least two adults were required for every activity and campout. This was mandatory.  There were no exceptions.   

(You may recall the tragedy in 1991 where one of the LDS leaders cancelled his participation in a hike up Mt. San Gorgonio, and the other adult took the boys alone.  One of the boys was struggling, and since it was an out-and-back hike, the leader told the boy to sit down along the trail and wait.  The troop would pick him up on their way back.  The boy disappeared and was never found. (See: “Disappearance of Jared Negrete,” Wikipedia)  

No Winter Gear

We arrived safely at our beautiful campsite on Mt. Pinos. The skies were clear and there was scattered snow on the ground. It was very cold.

As we unloaded the station wagon, I saw that the boys brought thin one-man nylon tents, and thin sleeping bags, with no extra blankets. They had only tennis shoes instead of boots.  They brought lightweight windbreakers instead of parkas. Not good!

Switchblade Fight

I soon caught two of the boys having a switchblade “duel.”  They were slashing knives at each other, trying to slice clothing without drawing blood. When I confronted them and confiscated their knives, they begged me not to tell their juvenile probation officers.


Then, I noticed one of the boys was missing. Another boy “snitched him off,” telling me the boy was on the other side of the hill playing with fire with a jar of gasoline he had siphoned from the station wagon.  He warned me that the boy was a pyromaniac, and he was on juvenile probation for arson.

When I cross the hill, I saw that the young man had a large fire going.  It was not in a designated fire area.  Every time he threw gasoline on the fire, he got a wide-eyed stare and a zombie expression. Trouble!  

I confronted him.  I said I would not tell his juvenile probation officer if he put out the fire and dumped the gasoline. I then marched him back to camp. Fortunately, because of the cold, there was no chance of him starting a forest fire.

That was it!  I had enough!

A Sleepless Night and Safe Return

 I was literally afraid that not all the boys would survive the night.  So, I ordered them to pack up and load their gear into the station wagon.  I didn’t want to drive on unfamiliar mountain roads at night, so we all slept in the wagon sitting together.  I stayed awake all night to keep guard.  

When the blessed sun finally peaked out, I drove to Long Beach and dropped the boys at their homes.

I was not a “happy camper.”

Other “Adventures”

Over the next months, before I left for law school, I had some very interesting experiences with my beloved Explorer Post juvenile delinquents. (I did grow to love them in the end.)

For example, the boys refused to go hiking, so I took them on a five-mile skateboard “hike” through downtown Long Beach. We played “follow the leader,” with me being the leader. When we passed by restaurants, I looked back and saw that the boys crouched down, so they couldn’t be seen from inside as they cruised past, and they held their hands high over their heads, with the middle finger extended, giving everyone in the restaurant “the bird.”

Once, someone forgot to unlock the church for our activity.  One of the boys said, “Don’t worry, Brother London.  I got this.”  Whereupon, he pulled out a switchblade knife and picked the lock in a couple of seconds.  He proudly proclaimed, “Voilà!”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.


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